Take Time in Confronting Spouse’s Annoying Habits

Today's question is answered by therapist Dr. Peter Pearson, co-founder of the Menlo Park Couples Institute.

QUESTION: My husband and I have been married 20 years, and we get along well most of the time, but lately a new habit of his is driving me crazy. He will stay up much later than I do to ”work”; then I get up to go to
the bathroom and find him playing Solitaire on the computer at 2 a.m. It's such a waste of time, plus he doesn't get enough sleep. I think he is addicted to the game. Am I nuts to let this bug me? I know he feels guilty
because if he hears me coming, he switches from Solitaire to work.

ANSWER: At the heart of every marital complaint is one person who's annoyed or frustrated at something a partner does or does not do. And it's human nature to attempt to ”fix” the errant partner. This attempt
usually includes the following steps:

1. You try to overlook the behavior, realizing that we all have quirks or habits that! could annoy someone.
2. When you can't ignore it any longer, you try to bring it up in a kindly way.
3. Bringing it up in a kindly way doesn't work, so you become quiet and grit your teeth.
4. Gritting your teeth just wears them down, so you bring out the heavy artillery — complaining and nagging.
5. Relentless complaining and nagging don't work. In fact, they just seem to make things worse. Since you've already tried ignoring the problem and kindly addressing it, a little despair starts to set in.
6. You try one last shot to reach a solution. You fully disclose how the problem affects you. Most people give up before they get to Step 6. But it is the approach that offers the best chance of changing your partner's behavior. It might go something like this:

”Honey, when you stay up to the wee hours on the computer, whether it's to work or play Solitaire, it seems to make you extra tired the next day. Then you become grumpy, testy or a little vacant in the evening. When you are like that, I avoid you, don't initiate positive interaction, and I feel so annoyed I am not very friendly or responsive to you. A small piece of our relationship withers away. I imagine I come across as a little controlling or bossy about how you spend some of your precious relaxing time. Do you think maybe we could discuss this problem from each of our perspectives?”

The next step depends on whether the response you get is collaborative or adversarial. If you have a constructive dialogue that explores each person's concerns, congratulations!

If the habit persists and the annoyance grows, all is not lost. For a more complete explanation search for the article called ”The 7-Step Approach to Influence Your Partner to Change.”
© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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